DNA testing has confirmed that Australia’s Aboriginal population have genetic links to India.
Research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (PNAS) uncovered evidence suggesting that Indians migrated to the Australian continent about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago and that they might have even brought the famed dingo dog as well as new stone tools with them.
The study was conducted through the DNA testing of people in New Guinea, South East Asia and India, as well as Australian Aboriginals.
Scientists had formerly believed that Australia was largely isolated from the time 40,000 years ago when humans first arrived in the territory until the early 19th century when Europeans first washed ashore.
"For a long time, it has been commonly assumed that following the initial colonization [40,000 years ago], Australia was largely isolated as there wasn't much evidence of further contact with the outside world," said study leader and Professor Mark Stoneking of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, according to BBC.
"It is one of the first dispersals of modern humans -- and it did seem a bit of a conundrum that people who got there [Australia] this early would have been so isolated… We have a pretty clear signal from looking at a large number of genetic markers from all across the genome that there was contact between India and Australia somewhere around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. Our results show that there were indeed people that made a genetic contribution to Australians from India.”
It is believed that the first humans in Australia originated in present-day New Guinea some 35,000 to 40,000 years ago -- at that period, the two countries were part of the same land mass. The participation of Indians in the Aboriginal gene pool was only speculated upon before.
However, it is unclear what route those ancient Indians took to get to Australia -- a journey of at least 5,000 miles across water and land.
Stoneking told Australian media that he has two theories about Indian migration to Australia.
"It could have been by people actually moving, physically travelling from India directly to Australia, or their genetic material could have moved in terms of contact between India and neighboring populations who then had contact with other neighbor populations and eventually, there would have been contact with Australia," he told ABC News’ PM program.
Irina Pugach, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute and the first author of the study, estimates that Indians contributed about 10 percent to Australian aboriginal genomes.
“But this number doesn’t tell us anything about how many individuals migrated,” she told the Daily Telegraph of Britain.
Particularly intriguing is the premise that Indian migration coincided with the appearance of new tools (microliths) as well as the arrival of the ancestor of the dingo dog to Australia.
“It suggests that the appearance of the dingo could be potentially related to the migration,” Pugach said.
“Although the dingo appears to have a Southeast Asian origin, [it] most closely resembles Indian dogs.”
Vadlamudi Rao, professor of anthropology at the University of Delhi, told Indian media that that the research indicated close connections between Australian aboriginals and some of India’s own tribal populations.
The Calcutta Telegraph reported that if Indians did indeed physically migrate to Australia 4,000 years ago, they were probably the ancestors of present-day Dravidian-speaking tribes like the Chenchu, Kurumba and other non-tribal groups in southern India -- that is, they are are likely not related to the so-called Indo-Aryans who predominate India’s current population.
However, Nature magazine reported that Sheila van Holst Pellekaan, a geneticist at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and a co-author of an earlier genome study, warned that the latest research is “definitely not representative of [all of] Australia," since it only studied people from the Northern Territories.
She believes many waves of migration account for the Aboriginals' vast genetic diversity -- that is, diversity which could not be solely explained by the arrival of Indians.
Professor Alan Cooper, from Australia’s University of Adelaide's Centre for Ancient DNA, said there is much more work to do in studying the country’s aboriginals, who have long been reticent about allowing scientists to probe them.
“We know so little about Australian human legacy, and yet it's perhaps one of the longest continuous occupations of any human cultural group in the world," Cooper told PM.
"It's one of the most rich and challenging stories in human history, and we know almost nothing about it, as this study has shown."
Aboriginals --- the poorest and most marginalized segment of Australian society – number about 517,000, or 2.4 percent of the county’s total population.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.